Ramadan Ben Amer, founder of the New Libya Party, alllegedly the first Libyan political party, is pictured at the Ouzu Hitel in the Libyan rebel stronghold city of Benghazi. Photo: AFP

Libyan expats on Tuesday became the first to take a stab at forming a political party in Benghazi, headquarters of the widely recognised National Transitional Council and stronghold of rebels fighting to oust Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi.

“We call ourselves the New Libya Party because everything was destroyed,” said Ramadan Ben Amer, 53, a co-founder of the party, which is the offshoot of an online news website that he helped launch in late February to support the revolution.

“Gaddafi says he has built Libya brick by brick but, especially Benghazi, he has destroyed it brick by brick,” Ben Amer told AFP hours before presenting his party at the Uzu Hotel.

He said that of the 2,000 individuals who have joined the party in Libya so far, the majority hail from his native Benghazi or Derna, the hometown of co-founder Rajad Mabruk, 65, who lives in Dallas, Texas.

New Libya, he added, also has some 20,000 supporters among Libyan expats living in the United States, Canada and Germany.

A California-educated petrochemical engineer, Amer said the party envisions a federal democracy with a clear constitutional divide among the executive, legislative and judiciary branches modelled on the United States.

Now a resident of the United Arab Emirates, he says this offers the best model for Libya's development of tourism and for oil wealth management -- although he says he has high hopes for solar energy in the north African nation that enjoys almost 365 days of sun per year.

“The reform and development of the oil and alternative energy sector,” is the first item on the party's agenda followed by health care and social security.

New Libya Party aspires to the cancellation of all taxes, starting with personal income taxes.

Its platform, as outlined in a glossy brochure, promotes equal rights, the participation of women and youth in society, as well as the protection of minorities, while limiting the role of tribes as these are “a social entity” that “should not be treated as a political body.”

Libya, Amer added, should aspire to be a Muslim but secular state, where an individual's relationship to God is treated as a private rather than a public matter.

He said his group is the first to declare itself a party (hezb in Arabic), and ventures that perhaps others may be more cautious in using the term to avoid being linked to Lebanon's Hezbollah which some Western countries, including the United States, considers a terrorist organisation.

“There are charity organisations, associations and clubs that have the seeds of political parties but none has declared itself a party using the word party yet,” he said.

A media spokesman of the National Transitional Council said “he had never heard” of Amer's party and added that he expected similar declarations to emerge soon. He warned that not all such declarations will “have meaning.”

“This is the first political party to be declared,” said Abeir Imneina, a political scientist in Benghazi, who is still considering which of the many groups contemplating forming a party she might join after an eventual fall from power of Gaddafi.

A number of working committees that have arisen around the National Transitional Council are likely to declare themselves as political parties in the near future, she added, with many holding meetings to set goals and recruit members.

“Declarations are a first step that help you get known but not the last as there is still no law governing political parties so no party can be official yet,” she said.

There are no elections due in Benghazi, currently administered by the opposition NTC, which is acting as a defacto government and recognised by dozens of countries as the legitimate representative of Libyans.

A Tuesday a demonstration calling for the council to remain in power until Gaddafi is ousted and a new constitution adopted drew some 200 flag-waving supporters stopping traffic at a major intersection.” - AFP